Saturday, December 1, 2012

By Cap Kaylor
“Jesus never went out of his way to help any one.”  I can sense the hair beginning to bristle on a thousand necks right now.  Before people reach for their pitchforks and look around for some tar and feathers let me just say that the words are taken from  Quaker pastor, Phil Gulley’s  book,  HOMETOWN TALES in which he observes that “Jesus never went out of his way to help anybody” because helping people was NEVER “out of his way”.   Helping others was the whole purpose of his life.  It’s what he lived for.  His legendary life of love is the reason he is revered by believers and non -believers alike.  We love his story because it mirrors back to us the goodness we strive for and only occasionally glimpse within ourselves.  But we all want to believe that such goodness is possible.  Most of us feel we are doing our best simply by loving and providing for those within the inner orbit of family and friends.  Content to write the occasional check for charity, helping strangers is not a full-time occupation for us.
But there are those around us who do more. Years ago my mother lived in a retirement community in Norman.  Some of the folks there developed strong friendships, others  kept to themselves.  One winter  someone there began pulling the fire alarm in the middle of the night --- a lot!  Four or five times a week the Fire Department would arrive amidst the high drama of wailing sirens , blaring horns, and flashing lights.  After a week of this you can imagine the prevailing mood among a hundred senior citizens forced from their beds into a cold parking lot in their pajamas at 3 a.m. Though the firefighters resembled giant killer bees in their black and yellow outfits,   grandma was ready to do some swatting!  It may have been their fourth visit that week and , they too, had been awakened in the middle of the night, but the firefighters remained unfailingly polite and patient.   That’s professionalism.
We are lucky  to still receive the quality of police and fire service that we enjoy.  We count on those services and expect them.  But what about the services that all those “invisible” members of our community rely upon?  Services to the poor, elderly, and even our children?  During the last election the people of Oklahoma voted against tax increases that our teachers and schools relied upon.  In Pauls Valley the State hospital for the mentally handicapped will now have to close it’s doors.  Where, I wonder, will all those people go?  We are constantly being told by our civic leaders that Oklahoma is exceptional, that our  economy is humming along and that we have been more or less shielded from the larger economic crisis through which the country is struggling.   Politicians make their careers by promising to slash taxes even further.  That these taxes provide services to the “least among us” seems not to matter.  I haven’t seen a scrap of campaign literature in years that doesn’t carry some version of,  “Taxes are an assault on your liberty!… Taxation equals  tyranny!….You know how to spend your money better that government does….Vote for me and I’ll cut your taxes even more!”
Time to stop blubbering about taxes and remember what we get in return for them:  roads, schools, hospitals, care for the poor and elderly, protection. The strength of our social compact  relies on the “WE” being as important as the “ME”.  Sounding a little like the SERMON ON THE MOUNT?  Perhaps it is.  Taxes are the way we communally live out the BEATITUDES.  It’s how we “go out of our way to help others.”

Saturday, November 10, 2012


There was a story circulating through camp that made it clear that we, “weren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto!”  A lot of things had changed for us during those first weeks in Saudi Arabia.  But they were  the things a soldier might expect:  bad food…heat…less than ideal living accommodations…heat…loneliness…heat… dust…more heat.  But the rumor swirling around like desert sand reminded us that it wasn’t just climate that was different about this place.  The story being whispered from soldier to soldier, from mess hall to flight line, was that a poor Filipino “guest worker” in the nearby town had been executed.  Beheaded for the “crime”  of casually making the sign of the cross in public.
I was never able to substantiate the rumor and it may just have  been  nothing more than  an “urban legend” but I do remember the look of fear in the eyes of the local merchants when the Mutawa, (the religious police empowered to enforce Muslim piety) would swagger into the shops with their untrimmed beards and spotless white robes.  If these guardians of orthodoxy judged that a woman was not sufficiently submissive to men, or if a shop keeper failed to roll down his shutters the split second the muezzin’s call to prayer sounded from the minarets , then the impious offender would be beaten with the wooden staffs that the Mutawa always carried with them.  A woman caught walking alone (women are forbidden by law to drive) without an accompanying male would be beaten, verbally abused, and even arrested.  On at least one occasion a  Mutawa enforcer  made the mistake of trying to bully a female U.S. Airman only to find himself laid out in the dust with a broken nose and a very surprised expression on his face.
I’ve seen what “faith-based initiatives” can do in cultures that lack the corrective counter balance of civil rights and respect for religious pluralism.  One of the things that makes America such a success is the religious tolerance built into our Constitution by the Founding Fathers.  “Congress shall pass no law establishing or restricting the free exercise of religion.”  That wisdom not only protects us  FOR the practice of religion.  It also protects us FROM the practice of religion.  The religious wars of the 16th century had Christians tearing Europe apart about which version of Christianity the State should endorse.  The Founding Fathers were aware of that bloody history when they set out to protect the rights of individual conscience in the Constitution.  No Church, no denomination,  (not even if it’s adherents are in the majority) can ever force their orthodoxies on the rest of us.  While the foundational documents of the revolution make a brief nod to the  “Creator” as  the seat of individual rights, they NEVER quote the Bible, or even make the slightest  mention of Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, or any other religious figure.
But tolerance of differences, the bedrock of a pluralistic society, doesn’t come easily.  It forces us daily to confront our own prejudices and fears.  It requires a willingness to examine our  innate tribal impulses which, while they may contribute to our very identity, also at the same time separate us from each other.
It requires vigilance because the fires of fanaticism are always burning.   And the demagogues willing to stoke that fire are multiplying.  There are people in this country who would never  see themselves as kin to the Taliban, and would be mortified if you drew a comparison,  but at the same time  would love to see just one particular faith community, Christianity, enjoy exclusive prerogatives and dominance in this country.  They would like to see the United States of America become a “Christian” nation.  Ruled by “Biblical” law.  Of course it would be THEIR version of  “Christianity”.  THEIR interpretation of the Bible that would rule.  They want judges approved by pastors.  Presidents preaching at “Prayer Breakfasts”, and Mosaic Law enforced with prison, fines , and death.  There is a televangelist who reaches millions daily who regularly calls the Catholic Church “the Great Whore”.  There is another who calls for the rounding up and execution by starvation of all homosexual persons.  Another who has said that it isn’t greed or global warming that caused Hurricane Katrina, but rather a Mardi Gras parade which has “caused God to lift His protective shield fro the United States.” In shrill voices they demand that the Bible be substituted for the Bill Of Rights.
   Discerning just where the line is when it comes to “rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” has never been easy in America.  But when we confuse the Sanctuary with the Town Hall we are in real danger of losing something precious in America.  Faith is a source of strength and hope.  It is personal and everyone has his or her idea of what it is.  It cannot be defined by someone else.  And because one person’s faith doesn’t look exactly like mine doesn’t mean they don’t have it.  When we start using our “faith” as a club and demand that the State coerce where we cannot convince then its  because our ideas have lost the power to persuade.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Hidden away in our midst there exists a community of secret mystics.  They don't wear saffron robes, or shave their heads, or take monastic vows.  Neither do they gaze into crystal balls nor chant ancient mantras in order to propel themselves into altered states of consciousness.  They live quietly among their neighbors working as teachers, drivers, parents, clerks, students, etc.  Most of us wouldn't notice anything special about them.  That is,  until you stumble across the fact that they belong to the only religion in history to ever be collectively awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In fact, these folk have done such a good job of hiding in plain sight that for many people the only thing that comes to mind when they hear the word  "QUAKER" is the oddly dressed man smiling beatifically back at them from the box of Quaker Oatmeal every morning.  But the Quakers have been here offering the world a witness of radical equality, voluntary simplicity, and peace-making for over three hundred years.

In an age when religious and political certitudes are causing world-wide suffering, destruction, and fear, the Quakers, or "Religious Society Of Friends", as they like to call themselves,  offer a path to spiritual awakening where the "seeking" is as cherished as the "finding".  Although rooted originally in Christianity, Quakerism is a non-dogmatic spiritual path which affirms the potential of every person to connect with the central mystery that lies at the heart of human experience.  Some call this mystery, "God", some the "Inner Light", some "Spirit", some "The Inner Christ", and some prefer not to name it at all.  But deep within Quaker  spirituality is the conviction that there is "That of God" within each person, indeed, within every creature, and every experience.  That conviction is the guiding star that opens us to an ever deepening awareness of the fundamental unity and  inter-connectedness of all creation.

The "Friends" have no clergy, no orthodoxies to defend, and no rituals, creeds, or scriptures to divide.  They come together to collectively seek the the unmediated guidance of the "Inner Light" which is the fruit of that unique Quaker style of worship that rests in profound silence.  To those unfamiliar with Quaker spirituality the silence of a Friend's Meeting may seem very puzzling and unlike any "worship" experience they have ever had.  Nothing seems to be happening.  But out of that communal silence have come the collective insights called the "TESTIMONIES" that make up the Quaker path:   radical commitment to equality, non-violence, voluntary simplicity of life, integrity,  and community.  The conviction that the light of God shines in all has, for centuries, put the Quakers in the forefront of the struggle for civil rights for slaves, women, gays and lesbians, children, prisoners, and the mentally or physically handicapped.  Their commitment to peace-making and reconciliation has earned them the Nobel Peace Prize, (as well as prison terms and persecution).

They welcome all who seek the serenity of the enlightened spirit that comes from love, prayer, and service.  You won't find them on the box of oatmeal anymore.  But, here in Norman,  you will find them meeting at St. John's Episcopal Church every Sunday at 5pm in the little chapel at 235 W.Duffy St., Norman. (nursery service available).
Quaker Cap